Grins for Life

I’ve been excited about Red Bull’s Wings for Life race ever since I signed up a few months ago. Actually, I’ve wanted to run it since I heard about it last year, so I’ve probably been excited about it since then! I was lucky enough to be invited by Red Bull to take part this year so we headed up the day before to meet the team and get ready for the race. Our accommodation for the night was the Snoozebox at Silverstone, which was small and cozy and did the job of keeping us out of the horrendous rain. The night before we had a hearty BBQ and got to know some of the other Red Bull runners – a mix of familiar faces and new ones!

The day of the race I woke up feeling quite nervous. A mix of being underprepared and not really knowing what to expect! The idea of the race is that there is no finish line – your race ends when the catcher car (in the UK, this was driven by David Coulthard!) catches up with you somewhere along the route. The extra twist is that the race takes place in 35 locations across the world at exactly the same time, which made for a pretty cool start line!

Red Bull/Freestak crew photo!

I dragged Dayve along for his second ever race. I signed him up the week before the race and he prepared in earnest by, erm, going swimming three times. He has pretty good base fitness but hasn’t run for a wee while, but he was feeling pretty enthusiastic about seeing how far we could get. It was interesting to see his mindset (“I wonder how far I can get…maybe I’ll make it to 20km?!”) compared to mine (worried that I wouldn’t be able to run as far as I ‘should’ be able to) and thought it summed up male v female brains pretty neatly.

We got to the start area pretty early and got ourselves sorted. The organisation was excellent and we were sorted with race numbers, bag drops and toilet stops well in advance of the actual start. We then filed in to the race area where there were several enthusiastic Red Bull ambassadors working the crowd, images from other Wings for Life races globally and camera men and race drivers milling about.

With Jen and Rhalou before the start!

After a global count down, we were off!

The UK race starts with a lap of the track at Silverstone, which sounds pretty awesome. In reality it was a little bit grey and mind numbing, but it was definitely fast! Having seen some of the other start line locations being broadcast on the big screens, Silverstone didn’t feel as beautiful or as patriotic as some of the other races, but it was cool nonetheless.

Dayve and I ran together and set off far too fast in all the excitement. We’d managed to position ourselves really near the start line and so started with quite a few speedy runners, which definitely didn’t help our pacing! We settled in to a pace that felt pretty fast for me, but I decided to hang on in there in order to get as good a head start as possible on David Coulthard’s catcher car. Pretty quickly I started to feel really hot. We’d woken up that day to torrential rain and so I had dressed in a thin long sleeve, capris and a rain jacket. As the morning progressed it had stopped raining and I had made a last minute swap to shorts (I later really came to regret this) and I’d shed my rain jacket on the start line but I was still absolutely boiling.

It takes just over five miles to get out of the track and in to the countryside, and it felt like a long time! We were both pleased to get out to the open roads and set our eyes on the next target of reaching 10km. Dayve’s distance PB is 10km so we decided anything over that was a victory. I had the beginnings of a blister coming on (already!) and was feeling pretty miserable; hot, tired, out of breath and in pain. I persevered.

The course outside of the track is pretty hilly and the hills come thick and fast! Eventually the 10km marker came in to sight and we pushed for it like it was a finish line, which was probably a mistake. As soon as we crossed it I stopped and shed my top. I’m not normally confident enough to run a sports bra and have never done so before in a race, but I was so hot it felt like there was no other option. We then pushed on again, in to unchartered territory for Dayve!

Walking up a hill…along with everyone else!

At around 12km I was feeling pretty miserable and started praying for the catcher car. The blister had knocked it up a gear and the hills were mocking my legs. As a cherry on top, I’d started to develop some major chafing on my inner thighs – so pretty. My last minute switch to shorts meant that I didn’t have bodyglide or under shorts, which I was starting to pay the price for in the humid conditions! (I am so hot)

At about 13km Dayve admitted he was also feeling pretty beat due to the hills, so we set our next goal at 15km. We adopted the strategy of walking up the hills and running down, which worked pretty well for us. Strangely enough, I actually started to perk up at this point. The sun was shining and the countryside was beautiful, and I was out adventuring with my soul mate who was trooping through the longest run of his life like a hero. We were in it together.

Hysteria set in as the 15km sign came in to view. That had been our rough goal at the beginning and we were so happy to have made it! We stopped and took some photos to mark the occasion before plodding on. Anything from here was a complete victory and spirits were high. About 500m down the road some of our fellow runners started making some noise – we turned around to see the catcher car snaking down the country lane behind us. Everyone’s pace practically doubled and we all started encouraging each other to make it to 16km before getting caught. Lucky for us this coincided with a big juicy downhill which we grabbed with both hands…!

Here come the catcher car brigade…!

The catcher car is preceded by friendly cyclists, who warn you that the car is coming and encourage you to give it everything in the final minutes of your run. This definitely builds the excitement even more and I got really overexcited and started running like a madwoman with a massive grin on my face. The catcher car finally caught us as we started to climb yet another hill (they were relentless!) and I was overcome with a whole mix of emotions. Happiness at having had so much fun, pride at Dayve running over TEN MILES(!), disappointment that my race was over and that I hadn’t run further, and relief that I could end the pain and stop running!

D E A D

So proud of this little babe for running so far. He is certainly feeling it today…!

Relief to see the catcher car!

After a quick pit stop (aka lying on the road) we started a leisurely stroll back to the bus stop behind us, chatting with other competitors and celebrating Dayve’s furthest run to date. The bus took us back to base really quickly and was stocked with icy waters – it was really great. After a quick pit stop at the bag check we went to collect our medals and finisher’s goody bags. They’d already run out of small t-shirts (race organisers – why don’t you stock more small t-shirts when runners are, as a rule, quite small?!) so I grabbed a medium before heading to the after party at the paddock.

We hooked up with the crew on the roof terrace, grabbed a free beer and chilled out while watching the race unfold live on the big screens. It was pretty epic to see two of our crew take first female (Kate Carter) and first male (Tom Payn) as it was broadcast across Silverstone! Kate had run the marathon the week before and Tom ran an impressive 61km before getting caught. Two very impressive runners!

Winners!

All in all the race was an amazing experience and I cannot wait to go back next year and hopefully get (much) further! The whole thing is flawlessly organised and the after party was a really cool treat (open to all runners FYI, not just guests of Red Bull). My one complaint is that I’d like to see a more inspiring or classically English location, although I guess it doesn’t get more English than undulating country lanes.

My race certificate!

Did you run this year, or do you fancy joining me next year?

A huge thank you to Red Bull and Freestak for the opportunity! I received my race entry and accommodation free of charge (I paid for Dayve’s entry) and all opinions are my own.